Essential oils have long been used to treat various ailments, and there’s growing evidence to support their effectiveness.
An essential oil is the essence of a plant. It’s extracted from the leaves, bark, stem, root, or flowers of a plant by a steam distillation process. The oil plays an important role within a plant, and it also brings us important health benefits.
Insects have pollinated flowers for hundreds of millions of years. Insects are attracted to plants for a few reasons; their aroma, their colour, or their structure. Scent is the biggest attractor, and because the oil gives plants their unique scent, it attracts insects and aids pollination.
They help plants win their evolutionary ‘competition’
Oils in plants help them to release chemicals that prevent competing plants or vegetation from growing around them. Plants will compete for soil nutrients and the ideal position to get light from the sun.
They help to protect them from insects and other animals
Plants need to protect themselves from predators, just like animals do. Plants use chemical compounds to deter insects and other animals from coming close to them. Many of these chemicals are natural insect repellents. The oils are useful in helping the plants to survive in harsh environments.
To protect the plant from other organisms that may harm it
Plants release chemicals and other resins which have antimicrobial and antifungal properties. This helps to kill off any organisms which may threaten the plant’s survival. The oils do a similar job, and many oils have antifungal and antimicrobial properties which makes them useful for many health applications.
How do you use an essential oil?
You can use essential oil as a:
You just need to dilute it with a carrier oil such as jojoba oil or sweet almond oil. It is better to dilute oils as they are very concentrated. Essential oils are easily absorbed into the skin and provide systemic or local benefits. They can be used in aromatherapy massage to ease stress and anxiety, treat headaches and migraines, to treat insomnia, pain, and muscle tension, and to boost immunity.
Facial cream, body lotion, or oil
You can add essential oils to your favourite face creams or body lotion to create a skin treatment with plenty of health benefits. Certain oils can reduce the appearance of scars and stretch marks and acne, reduce the signs of ageing, improve skin tone, and texture, and hydrate the skin.
An addition to your bath
Add some essential oil to your bath and stir well to disperse the oil. Be careful to rinse your bath afterwards though, as the oils can make your bath slippery. Adding oil to your bath can help to reduce stress, get rid of muscle aches, reduce fatigue, boost circulation, and detox the body.
They can be used in steam inhalation
Place 3-7 drops of essential oil into some boiling water. Beneficial oils to use in steam inhalation are eucalyptus, lemon, and tea tree oil. Cover your head with a towel and inhale the vapour. Keep your eyes closed. This method is great for treating congestion from colds and flu, and boosting respiratory function.
You can use them as a spray
Mix 10-15 drops of essential oil with water and add it to a spray bottle. The spray makes a good room freshener and body spray. Oils also make effective household cleaners, and can be good for cleaning showers, toilets, sinks, and worktops.
They can be added to a diffuser
The oil can be added to a diffuser to be dispersed through a room to reduce stress and anxiety, boost mood, and to promote a good sleep.
They can be directly inhaled
You can add some oil to a handkerchief or a cotton wool ball and directly inhale it or you can apply some to the palms of your hands and do the same. This can be used for respiratory and sinus problems, and to produce effects on the nervous system, for calming or relaxing you, for example. You can also inhale an oil straight from the bottle. Inhalation is very effective for affecting the mood, as the smell receptors in the nose are linked with a part of the brain which governs emotion and mood.
Essential oil safety
Keep all essential oils out of reach of children and pets.
Be careful with some oils, especially citrus-based ones, as they can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. Do not sunbathe for 24 hours after you apply those types of oils. These oils can cause sensitivity too, so check for a reaction by doing a patch test on your upper arm.
Avoid prolonged use of the same types of essential oils.
Always dilute an oil with a carrier oil like sweet almond oil or coconut oil before using it on your skin.
Always follow the instructions on usage and suggested doses.
Always seek advice before using an oil if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. This also applies if you are taking any medication or if you have an existing medical condition.
Keep oils away from the eyes and ears, and any areas of sensitive, inflamed or broken skin.
Fertility is the ability to reproduce. Men with normal fertility are able to father children, and fertile women can conceive, carry a baby for 9 months, then give birth.
When we are in our late teens and early 20s, sex drive and fertility levels are high, so conception is easier. As we get older, fertility starts to decline, especially for women after the age of 35. This fact is blamed for the increasing level of fertility problems in developed countries, where women have become more career focused and are leaving motherhood until later in life. Other health issues such as increasing obesity levels globally, have contributed to the rise in fertility problems too.
Infertility is when a couple cannot conceive despite having regular unprotected sex. Infertility can be caused by a number of disorders and lifestyle factors. Sometimes, however, fertility problems can’t be explained, and this is true in around a third of cases. Around 1 in 6 couples have difficulty conceiving.
Infertility in women
The hormones oestrogen and progesterone control a woman’s monthly reproductive cycle. An egg is released every month which travels into the fallopian tubes. This is ovulation.
In women, most cases of infertility are due to problems with ovulation. Some women don’t ovulate or they only ovulate infrequently.
There can many causes of ovulation problems, such as:
polycystic ovary syndrome
problems with the thyroid
premature ovarian failure, which is where where a woman’s ovaries stop working normally before the age of 40
Scarring from surgery, which can damage the fallopian tubes or womb
Fibroids, which are non-cancerous growths in or around the womb. Sometimes they can prevent a fertilised egg from implanting in the womb or block a fallopian tube.
Endometriosis is a condition where small pieces of the lining of the womb start growing in other places in the body, such as the ovaries or fallopian tubes and this can cause fertility problems.
Pelvic inflammatory disease is an infection of the womb, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. It is often caused by a sexually transmitted infection, and left untreated, the fallopian tubes become scarred and damaged which makes it very difficult for an egg to make its way into the womb.
Medicines can affect fertility, these include:
non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen
chemotherapy medicines sometimes cause ovarian failure
antipsychotic medicines can cause irregular periods or infertility
Infertility in men
Male infertility is often caused by abnormal semen, which is the fluid that contains sperm. Problems can include:
A low sperm count or no sperm at all
Reduced sperm mobility, which makes it harder for sperm to reach an egg
Abnormally shaped sperm which find it harder to move
Damage to a man’s testicles can affect the quality of sperm. This can occur due to:
Injury to the testicles
Undescended testicles, which is when one or both testicles has not descended into the scrotum as it should
Infection such as mumps or gonorrhoea can affect testicular health
Ejaculation problems can make it difficult for a man to release sperm
Hypogonadism, which is a very low level of testosterone, the male sex hormone that is involved in making sperm.
Other causes of infertility
Both men and women are their most fertile when they are in their early 20s. Female fertility declines dramatically after the age of 35. Around 1 in 3 couples in which the woman is over the age of 35 have fertility problems. This increases to 2/3 when the woman is over 40. Male fertility gradually declines from the age of 40, though men can technically father children well into their 80’s.
Studies have shown that women who smoke take longer to get pregnant. Research has found that toxic chemicals in cigarettes can damage the lining of the fallopian tubes, which help to carry the egg from the ovary to the womb. Partners of men who smoke also have a reduced chance of conceiving as smoking can reduce the amount of sperm produced and their motility.
Alcohol can reduce fertility in both men and women. It is not yet completely understood exactly how alcohol affects fertility, but studies have found that drinking alcohol reduces the chances of a woman conceiving. In men, heavy drinking may affect sperm quality.
An egg is fertilised when a man’s sperm meets the egg around the time of ovulation, which is when the egg is released from the ovaries. Women usually ovulate once during each reproductive cycle, and the most likely time for getting pregnant is 14 days before a period.
Worry and tension can cause hormonal changes in the body, which can lead to fertility problems.
Sexually Transmitted Infections
Chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammatory disease which can cause permanent damage to the fallopian tubes and uterus, which leads to infertility. Infections like gonorrhoea can also cause pelvic inflammatory disease and reduces fertility in men as well.
Unhealthy body weight
If you’re very underweight or overweight it can cause problems with fertility.
How to boost fertility
Having sex every 2-3 days gives you the best chance of conceiving. Doctors say you don’t need to aim to have sex in an ‘ovulation window’, which is biologically the most likely time that a woman will conceive.
Avoid smoking. This can damage a man’s sperm, and women who smoke take longer to get pregnant.
Testicles should be kept 1-2 degrees cooler than the rest of a man’s body, so avoid wearing tight or restrictive underwear or clothes.
Maintain a healthy weight. Being under or overweight can affect fertility.
Keep as healthy as possible; eat a good diet, take plenty of exercise, and deal with stress.
Unexplained infertility accounts for around a quarter of cases of infertility. This is where no medical cause can be identified in either the woman or man.
If a cause for your fertility problems hasn’t been identified, talk to your doctor about the options that are open to you.
IVF fertility treatment is usually offered to women who haven’t been able to get pregnant within 2 years where no cause has been identified.
When to see your doctor
See your doctor if you haven’t conceived after 1 year of trying.
You should see your doctor sooner however if:
You are a woman aged 36 or over, because the decline in fertility increases dramatically when a woman reaches her mid-30’s
If you have any reason to be concerned about your fertility, such as if you have been treated for cancer or you think you have a sexually transmitted infection
Fertility tests can take time to complete and because female fertility decreases rapidly with age, so it’s best to make an appointment to see your doctor as early as possible
Your doctor will be then carry out an assessment to check for things that may be causing your fertility problems and advise you about what your options are.
It’s always best for both partners to visit their doctor as fertility problems can affect a man or a woman, or sometimes both.
Trying to conceive can be an emotional journey, so it’s important for each partner to support each other as much as possible.
The currently available fertility treatments include:
medication, which treats lack of regular ovulation
surgical procedures such as treatment for endometriosis, repair of the fallopian tubes, or removal of scarring in the womb can restore reproductive function.
assisted conception, which might be artificial insemination or IVF (in-vitro fertilisation)
The treatment you will be offered will depend on what’s causing your fertility problems and what’s available from the health services in your area.
Private treatment is also available, but it can be prohibitively expensive and there’s no guarantee it will be successful.
There are several essential oils that may be able to boost fertility:
This oil is very effective for balancing hormones and regulating the menstrual cycle. It is also calming, so it can reduce stress which can affect fertility. For women who have endometriosis, Geranium may be especially beneficial.
This oil is very effective when mixed with a carrier oil such as almond oil and applied topically to the skin. It can help to regulate the menstrual cycle, and is even suitable for a baby’s skin (when diluted) when you have had your bundle of joy!
Chamomile has anti-inflammatory properties, which may be able to reduce the discomfort caused by cysts or fibroids, which can cause infertility.
Yarrow is a great detox oil. It helps to relieve pelvic inflammation and it is also beneficial for the health of the digestive system and urinary tract.
This oil boosts your oestrogen levels, so it helps your body to regulate reproductive hormones naturally. It also has the welcome effect of being an aphrodisiac, so this can improve the regularity and the enjoyment of sex which will improve the chances of conception. This oil can also help with male infertility, by treating hormone imbalances and impotence.
Ginger oil has antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It also promotes healthy digestion and healthy circulation.
This oil helps to relax the uterus and regulate your menstrual cycle. It also boosts libido and promotes normal healthy cervical mucus. Don’t use this oil after ovulation however, because it’s not safe for use during pregnancy.
This oil helps to balance your hormones and improves hormonal health and normal function overall. It is most effective when used during the first part of your menstrual cycle to regulate menstruation and improve hormonal functioning. This is another oil that is not safe to use during pregnancy.
This oil has a very pleasant sweet smell and it has aphrodisiac qualities. It also regulates the menstrual cycle by supporting the function of the endocrine system, which are the glands responsible for producing hormones at their normal levels.